Scientists Thursday morning will try to determine what killed a 46-foot whale found washed up on Atlantic Beach, a spokeswoman for a Riverhead marine foundation said.
Kim Durham of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation said the young adult finback whale, which weighs between 20 tons and 30 tons, appeared to have been dead for quite some time and was badly decomposed.
Durham, the foundation's rescue-program coordinator, said the mammal, first spotted Sunday about seven miles offshore near Long Branch, N.J., also had a severely damaged tail. Experts had been tracking the whale since then, plotting where it might beach, Durham said.
Onlookers gathered Wednesday morning near the shorefront at the Sands Club, where the whale's carcass rocked in the surf, about 20 yards offshore. The carcass filled the humid air with a foul stench.
"Everybody in town's talking about it," said Mike Salerno, 38, of Atlantic Beach. "Every year here, there's more and more dead sea life."
Second in size only to blue whales, finbacks can grow to about 70 feet long and weigh up to 70 tons, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. They live in oceans throughout the world and share the deepest voice on Earth with blue whales, the DEC says.
Scientists will start a necropsy, similar to an autopsy, between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. Thursday, Durham said. The procedure could take as long as six hours, she said.
Durham said that after the procedure, the whale would be cut into pieces and incinerated. She said foundation officials will discuss the whale's disposal with officials from the Town of Hempstead, which runs the beach.
As biologists completed measuring the mammal Wednesday afternoon, Durham said she did not know the gender of the whale or how it died. She said the whale is a sub adult, which means it was not fully mature.
"By just looking at it now, there is no way to determine how it died or how it was injured," she said.
Most onlookers said they felt badly for the whale yet stayed on the beach despite the foul smell.
Karen Ackerman, 76, of Howard Beach, said she found the situation sad and pitied the dead whale.
Three people walking their dogs discovered the whale.
Ian Cuttler, 42, told Newsday he was out with his friend, Jon Tick, and his friend's daughter, Tobey, when he noticed "a nasty, nasty smell" and saw the whale about 6:30 a.m.
"It's the size of a jetty," said Cuttler, who ran home and grabbed a camera.
"When you walk the beach you find shells, sometimes a seal, a porpoise. Maybe a fluke or a flounder," Cuttler said. "I've never seen a whale."
With John Valenti
Sleek and long with a V-shaped head, and a tall dorsal fin two-thirds the way back its body. It is the second-largest species of whale, reaching about 70 feet long and a weight of 70 tons.
Migrates, usually feeding in the Northern Hemisphere in the summer months.
Feeds in the summer by lunging into schools of krill or small fish and gulping large amounts of water and prey. It then expels the water through the side of its mouth.
Killer whales are a finback's only nonhuman predator.
80 to 90 years.
Sources: NOAA Office of Protected Resources; American Cetacean Society; International Whaling Commission; New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.